Business survival in lean economic times calls for innovation and efficiency. So it stands to reason that green building and remodeling is the one bright spot in a housing market that continues on an unprecedented slump. As energy prices rise, consumers are taking a greater interest in green building, and government is making it worth their while to start investing in green technology now. Green building offers a sustainable solution to our current economic and energy concerns that will reap benefits far into the future.
An October 2008 report, The Green Home Builder: Navigating for Success in a Down Economy, by McGraw-Hill Construction, found that 40 percent of builders surveyed in the report stated that building green makes it easier for them to market their homes.
"There are incredible opportunities in this industry. Environmentally conscious construction is becoming the only economically viable construction," says Brad McConnell, owner of Mid-Missouri Home Energy Services in Columbia. His company performs residential energy assessments and green renovations.
Economic and environmental sustainability come together through Home Performance with Energy Star, sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. McConnell and other contractors have received training through this program, offered in Missouri by Columbia Water and Light, Kansas City's Metropolitan Energy Center and St. Louis's Earthway's Center. Energy Star offers residential customers rebates of up to $1,210 for energy efficiency improvements by qualified contractors and up to $1,600 for high-efficiency air conditioners. Improvements may also be eligible for a federal tax credit. Additionally, the Home Performance Loan Program offers low interest loans to finance energy efficiency improvements.
According to Columbia Water and Light, the average energy savings for participating customers is 29 percent. "The payback is not just determined by incentives, but by the cost of energy itself," says McConnell. "Look at how energy prices have risen in the past five years. They are going to continue to rise as growing economies have a greater energy demand and regulations such as cap and trade are put in place."
Matt Belcher, owner of Belcher Homes, and recognized throughout the St. Louis area and the nation as a green building expert, points to the many attributes of this environmental approach. "Building green raises the bar for the housing industry as a whole by establishing new standards for durability, livability and sustainability," says Belcher, "Building green is building smart."
The smart building practices that are the foundation of the green building movement have been around for a long time. "I grew up in the building industry, and I learned the general idea and philosophy of building green from my dad," Belcher explains. "Long before concerns about climate and clean energy spawned the current movement, my dad built green-without even realizing it."
"Dad's methods were just common sense," he observes. "They saved him money and made his customers happy. My dad built homes that were sustainable and livable."
In addition to new home construction, Belcher also understands the importance of upgrading older homes. "In the U.S. about 98 percent of homes were built with 20-year-old methods," he explains, "If we updated their building envelopes, windows, appliances, HVAC, plumbing, and insulation following green guidelines, we could cut their use of energy and water by up to 40 percent in some areas."
Belcher, who has 30 years in the construction industry, understands the vast implications of green building. "It is said that charity begins at home-so does the global impact of building green. It benefits you and your children, and will benefit your grandchildren, your community, and the Earth. It is not just how we leave the world for future generations; the sustainability of our industry is also at stake."
This story was featured in the Jan. 2010 newsletter
- Leah Christian, Missouri Environmental Assistance Center